MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A “Guest” Visit from Donald Runnicles at Grand Teton Music Festival

Image (c) J. Gustavo Elias: Sir Donald Runnicles with the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra

Gemma New was originally scheduled to make her Grand Teton Music Festival debut conducting this week’s full orchestral program. But when she had to cancel at the last minute, GTMF’s music director Sir Donald Runnicles stepped in to save the day, adding two more concerts to those for which he is already responsible during this 60th-anniversary season.

My full report is forthcoming elsewhere, but in the meantime, even though the remaining performance tonight at 8pm is sold out, you might have luck by getting on the Festival’s waitlist (see here for ticket info and contacts).

The warm bond Runnicles enjoys with the Festival musicians was gloriously evident, moving to behold and experience. He led the orchestra in an account of the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes — with such a fierce intensity that the entire opera seemed distilled into this purely instrumental music of transition and commentary.

Also on the menu was another Runnicles specialty, Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (aka the Enigma Variations). No matter how often he has conducted this repertoire staple, how often the musicians have delivered it as part of their respective subscription seasons back with their home orchestras, there was no sign of jaded habit, no room for “been-there-done-that” mediocrity.

The loving attention to every detail in Elgar’s score clearly pulled the Walk Festival Hall audience breathlessly in, reaffirming confidence — sorely needed confidence after the long deprivation — in music’s power to transform. (Incidentally, you can get another potent dose of Runnicles’s affinity for Elgar in an account of the Symphony No. 1 with the Berliner Philharmoniker from 2011, available in the Digital Concert Hall.)

The Britten and Elgar framed the evening’s contemporary work, Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra by the Australian composer Carl Vine. The work was commissioned for GTMF Orchestra’s principal trombonist (and fellow Australian) Michael Mulcahy and premiered in Chicago in 2016. It makes a solid addition to a rare repertoire, taking for its inspiration case studies described by Oliver Sacks.

Vine describes his starting point: “Hallucinations are fascinating phenomena – instantaneous random inventions of our brains overlaid on the sensation of common reality and indistinguishable from it…. Sufferers of brain damage or a range of neurological disorders regularly hallucinate. Others without mental illness but under great stress or fatigue can also hallucinate, as of course can those who use psychotropic drugs. It is this bridge between the real world and some of the surprising ways in which our brains interpret the mundane reality around us that I find endlessly fascinating.”

Filed under: Donald Runnicles, Grand Teton Music Festival, Uncategorized

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